Here’s a question for you. Which recently selected England batsman has looked the best in terms of technique and temperament: Gary Ballance, James Vince, Tom Westley, Dawid Malan, Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Ben Duckett, Nick Compton, Adam Lyth, or … Chris Woakes? I know which guy has impressed me most. And he comes with the added benefit of being an effective seam bowler too (particularly at home).
We’ve often argued on this blog that Chris Woakes looks better with the willow than most of the so called specialist batsmen in England’s top six, and yesterday he proved it with an incredibly composed maiden test century in tricky circumstances. He even seemed to tutor the experienced Jonny Bairstow, who produced an effective but somewhat frenetic 93 which has become somewhat typical of England’s white ball batsmen in recent times.
It says something about Woakes’s temperament that it was he, an all-rounder who was left out of the side at Edgbaston, that seemed to be the calm head and the wise old sage at the crease. He might not always be effective with the ball overseas, but he’s certainly capable of being a true test all-rounder in the Ben Stokes mould. In fact, yesterday he showed the senior batsmen exactly how to approach a test innings: be sound in defence, and adopt a positive in mindset without being reckless or macho. I was mightily impressed.
England’s batsmen were in a spot of bother (again!) until Bairstow and Woakes arrived at the crease. Alastair Cook drove well until an infuriating old habit proved his downfall again: he was squared up and on the hop with both feet in the air when he edge behind. Keaton Jennings also failed again and has done nothing to suggest that Ed Smith was right to recall him. I agreed that Jennings deserved another chance at test level but thus far he looks to have the same problems.
Joe Root also played a strangely unconvincing innings for him. Perhaps the pitch was still tricky to bat on at this stage? The captain struggled to score and at times young Ollie Pope looked a tad more composed. I’m still not convinced that a player as inexperienced as Pope should be batting at 4 – yesterday was the first time he’d ever batted in the first ten overs of a first class innings – but it just wouldn’t be Ed Smith unless the team had something funky and headline grabbing about it.
First it was Bess (called up too early and then dropped unceremoniously after impressing with bat instead of ball), then it was Tom Curran (who again might turn into a better batsman than bowler), and now it’s the prodigious young Pope. Personally I thought he did pretty well for a debutant, but I do worry about exposing him this high up the order so soon. We need to treat our best talents with delicacy and common sense. And I fear that batting a county 6 at 4 is far from clever.
Next came Jonny Bairstow, whose innings included some sumptuous blows but also quite a few ill-advised swipes that might have proved his undoing on a different day. I love Jonny to bits, and enjoy watching him play, but I do worry that his sudden arrival as a white ball star has affected his approach to test batting.
And then came Jos Buttler, who seemed to play another quirky one-day innings. Buttler seems to walk down the pitch to the bowlers too much, which leaves him susceptible to full and straight deliveries. It wasn’t really a surprise when he got pinned in front. I’d look at this method if I were him. It worked well against Pakistan but the video analysts soon spot these things and start planning ways to undermine peculiar methods. He was pinned in front by Ashwin in Birmingham too.
But then came the Mighty Woakes (now called the Royal Woakes as I’ve used the previous pun liberally in the past) to show them how it’s done. He played a lovely orthodox innings that was perhaps even something of a throwback. He played pretty straight, rarely threw his hands at balls that weren’t there to hit (one aberration in his 90s apart) and he compiled what should prove to be a match winning contribution. Well played mate!
Woakes is now on the Lord’s honours boards for taking five wickets in an innings, ten wickets in a match, and scoring a century too. I can’t imagine too many people can boast that. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the home dressing room at Lord’s and I can only remember the name Ian Botham achieving such a feat (although there may have been others I’ve forgotten).
I think what this test match has shown yet again is that Woakes simply must play all home test matches, even if / when Ben Stokes returns. Yes there’s an argument that England should be looking to create a team that can compete in all conditions, home and away, but while Ed Smith is following a horses-for-courses policy there’s simply no reason to leave him out. If Stokes suddenly become available again then I’d argue that either Curran (whose time will surely come) or Buttler should make way. After all, Woakes has a higher first class batting average than the latter anyway.
Before the last test we were told that Woakes was omitted because he wasn’t match-sharp. I found his somewhat curious at the time, and I suspected it was simply because Smith was determined to get his funky pick for that game (which was Curran) into the starting line-up come what may. Obviously that decision paid off in a big way, so there’s no point complaining, but it’s weird that Smith justified Woakes’s recall for Lord’s because he now has more overs under this belt. After all, Woakes has played precisely zero matches since the last test (which was scheduled for 1st-5th of August). In fact, before this game he’d only played 3 T20 matches and bowed precisely 11.3 overs in the whole of August. And yet he’s still been able to play brilliantly here. I guess class is permanent my friends.
Anyway, before I sign off – and I should probably do this asap as the valium I’m taking for my bad back is beginning to kick in – I should quickly point out the bleedin’ obvious. England have got this game in the bag if the rain and bad light hold off. That means we’ll be 2-0 up and India will need to win the remaining tests to cause the upset they covet so much. And I guess there’s about as much chance of that happening as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn announcing they’re in love and eloping to Venezuela.